As one of the most well-known voices on country music radio today, Kelly Ford has been entertaining listeners for years with her humor and wit.
With stints in her hometown of Louisville, then in Denver and New York City, she planted roots almost a year ago in Nashville, aka Music City, USA, where she's been waking up fans alongside her male co-hosts Ty Bentli and country music artist Chuck Wicks with their nationally syndicated morning show, Ty, Kelly and Chuck on Nash 94.7 FM.
Despite the fact the country music industry has been portrayed as mostly male-dominated, that hasn't stopped Ford from moving forward and continuing the conversation. She's interviewed some of the biggest names in the business and was part of the team that brought the genre back to New York City which had been missing a country radio station for so long.
“What's awesome about New York listeners is they are choosing to listen to country and in many cases defending it while doing so with the passion of a New Yorker," says Ford. “Even a country artist will tell you that there is nothing like the fans there, they are off the hook."
Photo Courtesy of Ashley Hylbert
And while this Southern girl might still be able to walk into a few places unrecognized, once she starts talking her distinctive voice is a clear giveaway to listen up. She's not only living out her dream, she's paving the way for other young women to follow.
SWAAY sat down with the high-profile Ford to talk all things country, including the emergence of women in the industry, how social media has changed the game, along with some favorite spots in her colorful city.
As a woman in this business do you think it's harder to make a name for yourself as a radio DJ?
I have never been one to dwell on it, I've just forged ahead. Clearly, the playing field is not equal and has largely been a male-dominated industry for a while but I believe that's slowly changing. I think in a genre like this, it's reflecting society, and the roles of men and women are changing. My husband and I both have big jobs but he never thought his dream was more important than mine; we just figured things out as we went along.
Forbes magazine published an article in regards to the gender gap; when looking at the genre are there more female powerhouses taking over country in 2017?
It's a continuous battle but I do believe it's changing. Like everything else you have to get out there and the advice I give all young woman, including my daughter, is to get out there and prove yourself. If you dwell on it, not much is going to change.Miranda [Lambert] was in the studio recently and is probably the most recent person to bring up the ongoing efforts to make it more equitable [for women] and not fall into the notion that women want to hear a man, not a woman. She said on air, “You bet it's sexist" but the more people who step up and say that's not the way they want it the more it will change.
Miranda Lambert with Kelly Ford
Do you foresee a change in the near future?
I am extremely hopeful for this generation coming up; I see it in my daughter and my sons who are in college. There is a self-confidence and a self-awareness that I don't think I had when I was their age. Maybe my efforts are paying off even though I didn't know I was carrying the banner. I am a big believer that you can't dwell on what's wrong but focus on what's right; it's hard to deny success.
I want to help further young women any way I can. I grew up with sisters, went to an all-girls Catholic school and appreciate all that women have done in my life. Without those role models, I wouldn't have been able to become the person who just went for it. I never thought I couldn't do something because I was a woman.
This past summer you won a Gracie Award for Best Co-Host. What did winning that award mean to you?I am so grateful to have been able to reinvent myself after being in one market for so long; it goes to show you can do anything you want. For me, that win was everything and to be with a [male] team that I adore and encourages collaboration and isn't afraid to let me shine is a great demonstration of teamwork. And to be recognized separately for that part means everything. There is nothing more fulfilling than to have a group of women say hey, we are with you and we support you. It's a big part of what motivates me.
This wasn't your first award; what's it like to be recognized for the job you love doing?
It's a great feeling and I'm proud of it but more so as a woman, I hope it inspires others. But you have to keep it in check because if you believe all the good press you'll have to believe all the bad. I keep it in check but it's super-cool.
You've said social media has changed your life as a radio personality; in what way has that been true?
Social media adds a layer to you as a person and I think you can get a good sense of someone based on what they choose to post as well as what they chose not to. It's a connection that I can't necessarily add on the air because of time restraints. I am a freakish extrovert so for me to be able to connect is awesome. I didn't love the old school way where people just listen to the announcer; my favorite thing is interacting with others.
Do you feel social media is a game changer when it comes to advancing your career?
Yes most definitely. You're building your brand and the more I increase my brand and the trust with the people who listen to me, hopefully, I'll be creating a long time connection.
Nashville is ranked one of the top destinations to travel right now. What are you enjoying most about the city?
It's accessible yet not overwhelming. Broadway is only a few blocks long and you can find all you need in one place. There's live music in every bar and you never know who might show up. Here, everyone is a songwriter and it's a place that appeals to everyone who has a dream. And it's not just country music, it's become music city with a cool vibe. It's just enough cosmopolitan to make it sophisticated but enough homegrown to make you feel like you're visiting family and friends.
When looking to unwind where do you go?The woods here are spectacular and there are some great places to go hiking such as Lake Radnor and Percy Warner Park. I love rooftop bars; there's one that recently opened at the Thompson Hotel. When I'm missing New York it makes me feel cosmopolitan and chic. I love going to Cochon Butcher in Germantown [one of the city's historic neighborhoods.] And I love a good flea market. Once a month there is an amazing one at the Nashville fairgrounds where you can not only discover great finds but meet the most wonderful people with such great stories.
Finish this sentence, I am passionate about…
Anything that moves the needle!
"Sh*t!" my daughter exclaimed as she dropped her iPad to the floor. A little bit of context; my daughter Victoria absolutely loves her iPad. And as I watched her bemoan the possible destruction of her favorite device, I thought to myself, "If I were in her position, I'd probably say the exact same thing."
In the Rastegar family, a word is only a bad word if used improperly. This is a concept that has almost become a family motto. Because in our household, we do things a little differently. To put it frankly, our practices are a little unconventional. Completely safe, one hundred percent responsible- but sure, a little unconventional.
And that's because my husband Ari and I have always felt akin in one major life philosophy; we want to live our lives our way. We have dedicated ourselves to a lifetime of questioning the world around us. And it's that philosophy that has led us to some unbelievable discoveries, especially when it comes to parenting.
Ari was an English major. And if there's one thing that can be said about English majors, it's that they can be big-time sticklers for the rules. But Ari also thinks outside of the box. And here's where these two characteristics meet. Ari was always allowed to curse as a child, but only if the word fit an appropriate and relevant context. This idea came from Ari's father (his mother would have never taken to this concept), and I think this strange practice really molded him into the person he is today.
But it wasn't long after we met that I discovered this fun piece of Ari Rastegar history, and I got to drop a pretty awesome truth bomb on Ari. My parents let me do the same exact thing…
Not only was I allowed to curse as a child, but I was also given a fair amount of freedom to do as I wanted. And the results of this may surprise you. You see, despite the lack of heavy regulating and disciplining from my parents, I was the model child. Straight A's, always came home for curfew, really never got into any significant trouble- that was me. Not trying to toot my own horn here, but it's important for the argument. And don't get the wrong impression, it's not like I walked around cursing like a sailor.
Perhaps I was allowed to curse whenever I wanted, but that didn't mean I did.
And this is where we get to the amazing power of this parenting philosophy. In my experience, by allowing my own children to curse, I have found that their ability to self-regulate has developed in an outstanding fashion. Over the past few years, Victoria and Kingston have built an unbelievable amount of discipline. And that's because our decision to allow them to curse does not come without significant ground rules. Cursing must occur under a precise and suitable context, it must be done around appropriate company, and the privilege cannot be overused. By following these guidelines, Victoria and Kingston are cultivating an understanding of moderation, and at a very early age are building a social awareness about when and where certain types of language are appropriate. And ultimately, Victoria and Kingston are displaying the same phenomenon present during my childhood. Their actual instances of cursing are extremely low.
And beneath this parenting strategy is a deeper philosophy. Ari and I first and foremost look at parenting as educators. It is not our job to dictate who our children will be, how they shall behave, and what their future should look like.
We are not dictators; we are not imposing our will on them. They are autonomous beings. Their future is in their hands, and theirs alone.
Rather, we view it as our mission to show our children what the many possibilities of the world are and prepare them for the litany of experiences and challenges they will face as they develop into adulthood. Now, when Victoria and Kingston come across any roadblocks, they have not only the tools but the confidence to handle these tensions with pride, independence, and knowledge.
And we have found that cursing is an amazing place to begin this relationship as educators. By allowing our children to curse, and gently guiding them towards the appropriate use of this privilege, we are setting a groundwork of communication that will eventually pay dividends as our children grow curious of less benign temptations; sex, drugs, alcohol. There is no fear, no need to slink behind our backs, but rather an open door where any and all communication is rewarded with gentle attention and helpful wisdom.
The home is a sacred place, and honesty and communication must be its foundation. Children often lack an ability to communicate their exact feelings. Whether out of discomfort, fear, or the emotional messiness of adolescence, children can often be less than transparent. Building a place of refuge where our children feel safe enough to disclose their innermost feelings and troubles is, therefore, an utmost priority in shepherding their future. Ari and I have come across instances where our children may have been less than truthful with a teacher, or authority figure simply because they did not feel comfortable disclosing what was really going on. But with us, they know that honesty is not only appreciated but rewarded and incentivized. This allows us to protect them at every turn, guard them against destructive situations, and help guide and problem solve, fully equipped with the facts of their situation.
And as crazy as it all sounds- I really believe in my heart that the catalogue of positive outcomes described above truly does stem from our decision to allow Victoria and Kingston to curse freely.
I know this won't sit well with every parent out there. And like so many things in life, I don't advocate this approach for all situations. In our context, this decision has more than paid itself off. In another, it may exacerbate pre-existing challenges and prove to be only a detriment to your own family's goals.
As the leader of your household, this is something that you and you alone must decide upon with intentionality and wisdom.
Ultimately, Ari and I want to be the kind of people our children genuinely want to be around. Were we not their parents, I would hope that Victoria and Kingston would organically find us interesting, warm, kind, funny, all the things we aspire to be for them each and every day.
We've let our children fly free, and fly they have. They are amazing people. One day, when they leave the confines of our home, they will become amazing adults. And hopefully, some of the little life lessons and eccentric parenting practices we imparted upon them will serve as a support for their future happiness and success.